Chelsea Zimmerman editor-in-chief for Catholic Lane and a managing editor for Ignitum Today and Catholic Stand. She often writes about life issues and Catholic spirituality and has been featured on EWTN's Life on the Rock. Last year she started the pro-life video series BioTalk. Her website is Reflections of a Paralytic.
Commenting on gender reassignment as “treatment” for people with gender identity issues a few years ago, Wesley Smith said :
People want to be fulfilled and lead happy lives as “themselves.” Very well. But I also worry that once we accept the premise that we have a fundamental right to be physically remade to comport with how we feel about ourselves—and to have society act in accordance—we will have crossed a cultural Rubicon, leading to extreme outcomes.
It’s a “slippery slope” concern that’s not totally without merit. Consider: the mental illness once known as body integrity identity disorder (BIID), that now goes by the catchy new moniker “transability“.
Typically, people with BIID do not accept one or more of their own limbs and seek to amputate them. But, “transabled” seems to encompass any otherwise able-bodied person who wants transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment.
“Surely no doctor would ever cut off a healthy limb!”, you say. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? They already have in a few isolated cases. And its being proposed on a wider scale. Along with snipping spinal cords and other such nonsense.
“Okay, but, society would never allow such a thing to become mainstream,” you protest. No? Just look how easily the media has already slipped into the term “transabled.” It may only be a matter of time.
“Stay a while. Do not hurry by the cross on your way to Easter joy, for we know the risen Lord only through Christ and him crucified.” (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon).
Jason Hall reminds us that, “It is common, and entirely appropriate, for us to see our own spiritual defeats and victories as little Good Fridays and Easter Sundays…The truth of the matter, however, is that we spend much of our lives living little Holy Saturdays.”
We all have a tendency to become impatient in times of trial. To want to get our Good Fridays over with and rush to Easter Sunday. But the Cross, as, again, Fr. Neuhaus said, is the “path of discipleship for those who follow the risen Lord.”
St. Therese notes that,
“for His intimate friends, for His Mother, He works no miracles before having tried their faith. Did He not allow Lazarus to die even after Martha and Mary told Him he was sick (John 11:3)? At the wedding of Cana when the Blessed Virgin asked Jesus to come to the help of the head of the house, didn’t He answer her that His hour had not yet come (John 2:4)? But after the trial what a reward! The water was changed into wine…Lazarus was raised from the dead!” (Story of a Soul, p. 142)
Sometimes it is necessary for us to remain in the dark for a while in order to finally be able to see and appreciate the Light.
Some of the Church’s greatest saints experienced long periods of darkness, where they did not feel the presence of God. In a similar way, all of us, to varying degrees, will inevitably face some challenges to our faith and feel as though God has abandoned us. But it is precisely during those trials of faith when God, in fact, is closest to us.
As Pope Francis beautifully put it in his Holy Week audience last year, “The night becomes darker in fact before the morning begins, before the light begins. God intervenes in the darkest moment and resuscitates.” This is the “narrow gate” that many avoid because it can be so painful. But we do not travel alone. Be Not Afraid of the Cross
So, as we prepare for tomorrow’s great Feast, as we boil the eggs and thaw out the ham, let’s not move on from the Cross, just yet. Let’s spend some time with our Sorrowful Mother, who was dedicated to us and us to her at the foot of the Cross, and learn to have patience with the Lord when he does not immediately (or ever in this life) take away our pain. For:
“In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” -1 Peter 1:6-7
The culture of death has many pillars and many faces. One such pillar, surely is the tragedy of drug and alcohol addiction.
Not only does addiction slowly kill the addict (physically, spiritually and emotionally), but sexual impurity is often associated with drug and alcohol abuse, which leads to many unplanned pregnancies and abortions. A friend of mine saw this everyday at the pregnancy resource center she worked at.
The major problem with addiction, I think, is that, because of the social stigma of drug abuse, support for drug addicts and their families is just lacking in society in general. As one mother testifies, “when I had breast cancer I opened up the door and there were twenty women out there to help me. Everybody wanted to help me. But when my son was an addict I opened the door and there wasn’t anybody. So, you’re alone and you isolate yourself.”
It seems to me there is less sympathy towards drug addicts because, unlike something like breast cancer, which the person does not ask for, substance abuse often begins as a personal choice. The problem is that eventually the disease of addiction takes over and the addict is no longer acting on his own free will.
What can be done?
On a pilgrimage in 1998 I visited a community that helps bring life to suffering addicts. I had almost completely forgotten about it over the years, but a few years ago I was reintroduced to the Comunità Cenacolo (Italian for Cenacle Community).
By and large people with addiction don’t need “clinic” as much as they need “community” and, as it’s name suggests, that’s just what the Comunità Cenacolo is. It’s community. It’s family. It’s love. It’s hope.
Not only are they dedicated to reaching out to drug addicts and their families, but their services are free and, through prayer, hard work and personal outreach, they provide for the underlying reasons many of these people turn to drugs in the first place – loneliness, low self-esteem/sense of self worth, selfishness and, of course, lack of faith.
It is a “school of life”, providing for the complete person, not just helping them get “off drugs” but giving them the tools to deal with their defects when they re-enter the world and all its temptations. This is the kind of healing that needs to take place in order to truly build up a culture of life!
The Community was founded in 1983 by the saintly Mother Elvira Petrozzi who felt a calling from God to serve the “poor of the modern world,” especially drug addicts and the youth, whom she says have been “abandoned and excluded by this consumerist society.” The Mother House of the Community is in Saluzzo, Italy and today there are 56 houses spread throughout Italy and the world, including four here in America thanks in no small part to Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham.
Not your typical drug rehab program, Cenacolo is based on prayer, sacrifice, truth, work, faith and authentic friendship. Those who want to transform their lives with the help of the community are encouraged to stay for a minimum of three years in one or two of the houses where they will essentially live a very disciplined, monastic kind of life centered on the Eucharist.
What I find most beautiful is the encouragement of family participation in the life of the community. Not only is it important for the recovering individual to have the support of friends and family, but addiction doesn’t just affect the individual. Everyone who loves and cares for him suffers as a result of his self-destructive behavior, and having a network of other people going through the same experience helps the family cope as well.
Here in America, the community offers semi-annual Parents and Families Retreat Weekends and monthly regional meetings throughout the country. Family members can participate in an experience with the community in order to see from inside what their loved ones are learning and better walk with them on their journey. And, of course, there is the annual Festival of Life, a gathering of faith for all the youth, families and friends of the Community world-wide.
It can be frustrating watching a loved one in a seemingly endless cycle of self destructive behavior, but, as Venerable Sheen notes, “There is hope for each… Every man is made in the image and likeness of God.” Don’t give up. Keep praying, especially, and maybe give the Community a call if you haven’t already. There are houses for men and women.
This approach is not for everyone, of course. Some people may need more involved “professional” medical and psychological help. But numeroustestimonies confirm that this can be just what someone trapped in the shadow of death needs to come back to life and find purpose, meaning, hope. Many have entered and been saved after failed attempts with other traditional rehab centers and programs.
I can’t speak from any personal experience, so I spoke with my friend Kim who has had three younger siblings enter the Community. ”Before my siblings entered community,” says Kim, “it was extremely hard and painful. I really feared for their lives on numerous occasions.” Desperate to get them help, they had tried conventional forms of rehab and other accommodations to no avail. Then, her father heard about Cenacolo from a parish priest who had helped another family get their son into Community.
“My dad began meeting with the other family to learn more about Cenacolo.” After several meetings, says Kim, he knew Cenacolo was the right place to turn to. Since then, “the community has changed them and my family so much.” The main change, obviously, being an increase in their faith.
Their family has been helped, too, Kim says, through the family retreats, the fall festival and the monthly first Saturday meetings that allow them to walk with their family member(s) in community. “At the first Saturday meetings, we discuss a topic that makes us reflect on our lives. It may be about our selfishness, our anger, forgiveness, etc. We are usually asked to make commitments at the meeting to better ourselves, i.e., go to adoration, practice humility.”
To those who are going through something similar in their family, Kim says not to lose hope. “I’ve seen what God’s grace can do. Also, don’t be afraid to push them to do something they don’t want to do.’
A Prayer to Break Free From Addiction:
God of healing, we are once again reminded of the fragility of the human person. Bless those who struggle with addiction and grant wisdom and fortitude to those who love them.
Grant to each of us the humility to allow your strength to make up for our weaknesses, and bless us all with loving companions who can bolster us in times of need. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.
The Cenacolo Community relies solely on generous donations to make this life-changing experience free for all who enter –please help if you can!
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of (your) faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6-9).
Though we had known of her darkness for some time after her death the book really detailed the spiritual agony Blessed Teresa of Calcutta felt through the many letters she wrote to spiritual directors through the decades.
When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. – I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of the darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.
At the time, many reported this revelation about Blessed Teresa as some sort of double life she was leading. They could not fathom the idea of this kind of spiritual struggle from one who acted as if always in union with the Divine.
But darkness and faith very often go hand in hand. Some of the Church’s greatest saints experienced long periods of darkness where they did not feel the presence of God.
The most famous author on spiritual darkness is the 16th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, with his Dark Night of the Soul. But many modern saints have written of their experiences as well.
The one who I’ve been able to relate to the most is St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897). A doctor of the Church for her Little Way of spiritual childhood, St. Thérèse suffered what she called “worst temptations of atheism” for the last 18 months of her life.
During this time she says God, “permitted my soul to be invaded by the thickest darkness, and that the thought of heaven, up until then so sweet to me, be no longer anything but the cause of struggle and torment.”
For her the veil of faith turned into a wall reaching “right up to the heavens” covering the starry firmament. “When I sing of the happiness of heaven and of the eternal possession of God,” she writes, “I feel no joy in this, for I sing simply what I WANT TO BELIEVE.”
I love the images she uses in her autobiography to describe her trial of faith. She often calls herself a “little ball”, a plaything, that the child Jesus had let fall to the floor of her little boat as he went off to sleep, noting, “how rarely souls allow Him to sleep peacefully within them.”
It is quite difficult to put such spiritual suffering into words. According to the Little Flower, one must “travel through this dark tunnel to understand its darkness.” However, I recently came across a quote from Michael Novak that came pretty darn close to nailing it for me. Ironically (or not) it comes from about St. Thérèse.
Faith is not a feeling, not even a feeling of devotion, not an ardor. It is often, so far as ordinary sentiments go, an emptiness, an aridity, a dry torment, a mind jumbled with distraction, directionless, unfeeling. Faith is a calm and feelingless redirecting of mind and will toward the unseen love, notable more for its steadiness and willingness to go on acting just as it would if it had been carried along by transports of joy, instead of being left bereft of signs and comforts. Only in that way can faith be tested for truth, steadfastness, and authenticity. Only in that way is it shown to be the real thing.
No doubt because of the testimonies of great Saints like John of the Cross and the Little Flower, it’s been said that such spiritual darkness is reserved for a select few that God has chosen for a special, closer union with himself. But, judging by the response I got when I posted the above quote on my Facebook page recently, I’m willing to bet that this trial happens to more souls than we think, and indeed may perhaps enter the soul of every believer at some point in their spiritual journey.
This is, I believe, the “narrow gate” that Christ speaks of in the Gospels. What separates the saints from the rest of us, or rather what makes us saints, is perseverance.
The entire autobiography of St. Thérèse is a treasure, rich in spiritual insight that is at the same time profound and practical in its child-like simplicity. But of all the insights recorded in her Story of a Soul, I keep coming back to one line in particular time and time again:
“While I do not have the joy of faith, I am trying to carry out its works, at least.”
How easy it is to give up prayer, even one’s entire faith, when the joy of that faith is gone — when our prayer seems fruitless and we feel as though God has abandoned us. But it is precisely during those trials of faith when God, in fact, is closest to us and drawing us closer to him.
As Pope Francis beautifully put it in his Holy Week Wednesday audience this year, “The night becomes darker in fact before the morning begins, before the light begins. God intervenes in the darkest moment and resuscitates.”
Therefore, “Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:11-12).
Persevere in prayer.
Above all, faith is a relationship with Christ that is deepened through prayer.
Whether we suffer a great trial of faith or not, at the very least some aridity in prayer is inevitable, and, writes Peter Thomas Rorhbach in his book Conversation With Christ, it “presents us with an excellent opportunity for demonstrating unselfish love for Christ, a love that does not require consolation to sustain it.”
It’s not the quality of our prayer life that bears fruit, but our faithfulness. Quality will come with fidelity. Don’t give up.
Persevere in prayer. Persevere, even when your efforts seem barren. Prayer is always fruitful. -St. Josemaria, The Way #101
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. (1 Peter 2:21)
There are many, many lessons to be learned in the example Christ left for us in his suffering and death on the cross. One of those, I believe, is a lesson in how to die and the great reward that comes from patient endurance. This is a particularly important point to ponder as physician assisted suicide of the terminally ill and disabled becomes increasingly more commonly accepted — and practiced — in our country and throughout the world.
Believe it or not, I’ve even been asked by some faithful Catholics why it is so wrong for someone who is in extreme pain and “going to die, anyway” to want to hasten death and for us to help them do it.
The short answer, of course, is because we are not God. We did not bring ourselves into the world and we do not have authority to take ourselves out.
What’s more, though, even God, who could surely have spared himself the pain, submitted himself to the most brutal, agonizing death he was sentenced to.
Bruised, bloody and beaten, naked and humiliated, abandoned by his friends and loyal followers, Christ’s Passion was the greatest physical and emotional pain ever suffered. It was a great spiritual pain as well since Christ, having literally taken the full weight of human sin upon himself, felt the bitter agony of feeling completely separated from God.
And yet, despite this most extreme pain, he endured. Never once did he beg for assistance to be “put out of His misery.” Rather, he repeatedly put his life in the hands of Almighty God, trusting in his Will and knowing that only he has the authority to take life away.
In his book, As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus refers to death as the “final letting go of everything, body and spirit.” This is Christ in the Garden: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). And on the Cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Assisted suicide, on the other hand, is not about letting go, but taking control. It is a last-ditch effort to assert our own will and play by our own rules, to die on our own terms rather than humbly submit to the Will of God.
Along with showing us how to die, we know from Christ’s example that this patient endurance does not go unrewarded. Just as Jesus was “made perfect” by what he suffered (Heb. 5:9) and was able to rise again and be seated at God’s right hand, so shall we be purified through our own sufferings united to the Cross of Christ, and share in his eternal glory in heaven.
The Word of God is clear: we must pick up our own crosses and follow Jesus. In fact, Christ goes so far as to tell us that if we do not do this, we are not worthy of the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 10:38).
This is no easy task. It requires much faith and hope in God’s promise of eternal life. But above all, it requires obedience and humility – dying to ourselves and our own desires and submitting our lives to the Will of our heavenly Father who loves us and his Son who will, through his eternal sacrifice, be right there with us in all our trials.
As we sit at the foot of the Cross this Good Friday, let us ask Jesus to be close to those who are dying today and for the grace to follow His example and face our own death with the same humility and obedience.
Not my will, but thine be done: these words reveal to us the Son, in his humility and his divinity, and they show us the true path. -Pope Benedict, April 5, 2012
Lizzie Velásquez is a 24-year-old American woman who was born with a very rare disease (shared by only two other people in the United States) that doesn’t allow her to gain weight. She has been bullied most of her life, including being labeled the “World’s Ugliest Woman” in an internet video that received over a million views and thousands of vile comments.
That’s enough to break anyone’s spirit. But instead of giving in to negativity and despair, she overcame hardship and ridicule to become a successful author and motivational speaker. Many of you may recognize her from a video of her TEDX talk in Austin last year that immediately went viral.
For the most part, her speech is a motivational pep-talk for those who have been bullied or with low self-esteem. But it also sends a powerful message to the culture of death, specifically those who justify killing in order to spare someone a lifetime or period of suffering from some disease or disability.
“I’ve had a really difficult life — but that’s okay” -Lizzie Velásquez.
Parents of unborn children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome and other genetic disorders are told horror stories about how awful their child’s life will be and encouraged — often bullied — to abort. Lizzie herself was born with a disfiguring disease and her parents were told that institutionalization would be the best option since she would probably never have a “normal” life.
Speaking as a disabled person, myself, I will be the first to tell you that the past fourteen years of my life have not been easy, to say the very least. But that doesn’t mean they have been “too hard” to take, or that joy has eluded me. I’m still a human being, I’m still alive, and my life still has meaning and infinite value despite my challenges and limitations. In fact, in many ways, my injury has made me a stronger person and value my life even more.
Of course we should never want anyone to be sick or live with terrible disabilities and incurable diseases. Nevertheless, there is a lot of good that can come from facing our fears and accepting and overcoming life’s hardships. These are the things that help build our character and strengthen us as persons. Experiencing adversity provides an elite (and extensive) education in the practical living-out of those valuable virtues: humility, patience, courage, and perseverance.
Suffering is a great spiritual teacher, as well. Reminding us that we are creatures and totally dependent on God, it teaches us humility and self denial so that the power of Christ may more easily dwell in us (2 Corinth 12:9-10).
What defines you as a person?
This is the crux of Lizzie’s talk. She asked the audience to consider what defines them: their backgrounds? Friends? Families? She reminds them that if they can find happiness within and be the drivers of their own lives, the bullies will always lose.
There is a cult of normalcy in the world today that asserts its power over the week — deciding who gets to live and who must die — by defining people largely based on their abilities or lack there of. Those judged to fall short of their arbitrary, utilitarian standards are defined by those differences and cast aside as having lives not worth living.
This is why we are seeing the systematic slaughter of disabled children in the womb. This is why “suicide prevention” seems to apply to everyone except those who are sick or disabled.
“Only God can judge.” We hear that phrase thrown around a lot from pseudo-Christian progressives (often to justify all manner of perverse and sinful behavior). Thankfully, we know God doesn’t judge human life in the same utilitarian terms as the cult of normalcy.
In fact, in her forthcoming book Theology of the Body Extended that I had the privilege of reviewing, Susan Windley-Daoust reminds us that, Jesus Christ the Messiah, God incarnate Himself, “has consented to a way of limitation, of embodiment that can be bound, injured and killed as the way to define ‘the man.’” Therefore,
“When we see or experience limitation, even impairment, we should not think, ‘behold, the monster,’ but rather ‘behold, the man’ (John 19:5). The incarnation of Christ and his passion is the ‘norm,’ not anything defined by the cult of normalcy.”
We are human beings not human doings. Our lives are defined not by how we look or what we can or cannot do, but who we are. And who we are, all of us, is children of a loving God. A God who loved us so much that He became a man himself, suffered and died, showing us that every human life, even when it is subject to pain, is infinitely blessed and valuable and worth living.
Pain and suffering should never be used as an excuse to end someone else’s life…or your own. What the cult of normalcy fails to recognize or accept is that these things are part of “normal” human existence.
As Windley-Daoust put it, disability is an “open minority” that we will all join someday if we are not there already, because human beings are limited. If nothing else, we will all age into “limitations of expected function.” But even before then, most people will experience illness or some form of temporary impairment.
A culture that expects life to be lived to its fullness must be able to embrace and make peace with—even find joy in—the normalcy of human suffering.
It was one of the most heartwarming moments of the 2013 baseball season. On April 18, after a pep-talk from his “best friend and greatest batboy,” Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier ripped a two-run homer to center field off John Maine, extending the Reds lead to 11-1 over the Miami Marlins in the sixth (see video here).
What makes it even more poignant is that this beautiful moment might never have happened if Teddy Kremer’s parents had listened to the geneticist who told them 30 years ago after Teddy was born that he would never have more than a 40 IQ, possibly might never walk or talk and that they should put him in an institution.
I wish I could say that the world has improved its approach to a Down syndrome diagnosis in the past 30 years. Instead, modern academics have managed to recast “eugenics” as a positive term, distinguishing their vision from past government-mandated eugenics policies.
The emphasis now is on “selective reproduction” and the parents’ “choice” to decide what kind of child they want to have (though, it’s arguable how much of a choice it really is when you consider how many parents are practically bullied into the decision by their doctors). The result has been a search and destroy mission to wipe people with Down syndrome off of the planet through eugenic abortion. And it has taken so much love and joy out of the world.
In the latest episode of BioTalk, Rebecca Taylor and I “raise awareness” about the good news about Down syndrome.
Not only is life with Ds not as bleak as most parents are told when their child is prenatally diagnosed, but scientists are making in the treatment some of the more serious side-effects of the disorder.
One of my favorite television shows when I was younger was Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve been watching some old episodes of the series on Netflix and recently I was very surprised and impressed with an episode called “Ethics” and the way it dealt with the issue of disability and assisted suicide.
The episode opens with Lt. Worf getting his spinal cord crushed by a couple of barrels in the cargo bay. As it turns out, there is still no cure for spinal cord injury in the 24th century. Devastated by his diagnosis, Worf asks Comm. Riker to help him perform ritual suicide because, “When a klingon can no longer stand and face his enemies as a warrior, when he becomes a burden to his friends and family, it is time for the Hegh’bat. Time for him to die.”
The real heroes of the episode are Riker and Counselor Troi who refuse to let Worf give up on his life. At one point, Riker confronts the wounded Klingon and reminds him of all the people on the ship who consider him a friend and owe him their lives and to think about how they might feel about his dying. But, Troi definitely has the best line of the whole show when she tells Worf, “Maybe it’s time you stop lying here worrying about your honor and started thinking about about someone else. Like your son.”
When an otherwise able-bodied person has suicidal tendencies we consider it a cry for help, a sign that they are not emotionally or psychologically stable. Why does that view change when the suicidal person is sick or disabled?
The experience of a traumatic, life altering injury or disease affects a person mentally and emotionally just has it affects them physically. Your whole world suddenly changes and, as few people can really relate to such an experience, very often you are alone in that world with all its pain and challenges – envying the physical freedom of others (or your pre-injury self) and feeling slightly worthless or at least inadequate by comparison. A great tragedy occurs then when you are further isolated by people who, in misguided compassion, pity you for all that you can’t do or the pain you must endure, and justify your feelings of worthlessness.
While some people think that they are doing the loving thing by helping their loved one die, what they’re really doing is affirming the other in their fear and misery. How is that loving? Instead, the sick and disabled who ask for assisted suicide should be encouraged to re”bound” from feeling so hopeless and shown what they still have to live for.
As the late, great Fr. Richard Neuhaus beautifully put it: “As long as we are alive, we have all the life there is.” Whether we find ourselves terminally ill, permanently disabled, or facing some other permanent or transitory hardship, there is still some joy to be found amid the struggle. Suicide prevention should not be limited to the able-bodied.
Back aboard the Enterprise. When he’s told by Picard to have some respect for his friend and his Klingon customs, Riker makes another excellent point: “I can respect his beliefs, but he is asking me to take an active part in his committing suicide.”
This is the eyeless “I” of assisted suicide; it does not consider the consequences to others. “Death with dignity” is hailed as an exercise in personal autonomy, but the people claiming this “right” do not act alone. They require assistance — a coarsening of some other person’s conscience.
I don’t have the right to ask or demand something that may hurt others. There is a reason why “physician assisted suicide.” Their job is to heal, not kill. As Dr. Crusher put it, “the first tenant of good medicine is never make the patient any worse.” You can’t get much worse than dead.
Some will argue that assisted suicide is about alleviating pain, but palliative care in the 21st Century has come so far as to be able to eliminate virtually all physical pain. No, assisted suicide is not about pain control; it’s about the illusion of personal control even over death.
Death is not a right. It is an eventuality that will visit us all. There is nothing dignified about withholding water and food or injecting poison into a person’s bloodstream when they are at their lowest point (or the Klingon custom of taking a knife to your own heart).
Death with dignity is not an event; it is the natural result of having lived with dignity.
Finally, I really appreciate how the writers handled the reality of life after a spinal cord injury. More than once it was mentioned that people with SCIs can and do live very “normal”, active post injury lives. It is true and the majority of us with spinal cord injuries (and many other disabilities, for that matter) choose to live with our disability and find that there’s still quite a lot to enjoy about our lives.
That being said, ultimately in the show Worf ended up regaining all of his mobility — albeit through a risky and purely experimental procedure. But, that did lead to a pretty great speech on medical ethics by Dr. Crusher.
This episode of Star Trek was a breath of fresh air to come across after what the entertainment industry has put out portraying this issue in recent years. If you don’t have Netflix, you can watch the episode online for free here.
Follow-up: After I originally wrote this article a few weeks ago, I was informed by multiple people about another episode of TNG that seemed to be a little more pro-suicide. See: Star Trek, Pope Francis and TOB for the Aged
Today we celebrate the feast of the mother of one of the Church’s most celebrated saints. St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine (whose feast day is tomorrow), prayed unceasingly for the conversion of her famous son, and, as we all know, was happily obliged by Our Lord. Not only that, but her husband, Patricius, a pagan with a terrible temper, converted to Christianity and was baptized a year before his death thanks to her prayers as well.
She is a wonderful example for married couples and parents who are called to care above all for the spiritual well being of their spouse and children. I believe that it was not only her prayers, but also her example as a pious Christian woman that also won over her husband and son. This passage from 1 Peter makes me think of St. Monica and the example that all married women should give:
Likewise, you wives be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, when they see your reverent and chaste behavior. Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
1 Peter 3:1-5
She is also an example to all of us of our call to persevere in prayer. The conversion of St. Augustine did not happen overnight. It was a long, turbulent journey (20 years or more) during which the reluctant saint fell in and out of serious sin and his mother deeper and deeper into a conversation with Christ on behalf of her son, storming the gates of heaven with her constant tears and prayer.
In the end this great mother witnessed the baptism of one of our greatest saints and spent the last days of her life reflecting with him and longing for the joys of heaven:
“Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have renounced earthly happiness to be his servant. So what am I doing here?”
from St. Augustine’s Confessions
Her final request was that her son, who became a priest and bishop, remember her “at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.”
This March a team of researchers revealed that they had successfully cloned human embryos and, for the first time ever, the tiny human beings survived long enough to either be implanted in a uterus or destroyed for their stem cells (these scientists did the latter).
For some reason, this got me thinking about our previous Holy Father. Looking back, one of the things I appreciated most about Benedict XVI’s papacy, besides his own personal witness of holiness, was the way he often drew attention to what he called the “difficult problem of bioethics,” especially in the area of science and human biotechnology.
Like John Paul II, Pope Benedict recognized the temptation of science to reduce the human person to yet another material object to be analyzed, experimented upon, and manipulated, a mere means to human progress.
One instance of Benedict’s papacy in particular sticks out in my mind.
On Nov. 12, 2011, at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Pope Benedict addressed participants of the first international conference Adult Stem Cells: Science and the Future of Man and Culture.
The Holy Father opened his remarks with praise for the various institutions exploring and promoting research on adult stem cells (ASCs). ASCs hold great possibilities for healing chronic degenerative illnesses by repairing damaged tissue and restoring its capacity for regeneration. These therapies, the Pope said, would be a great advancement for medical science as well as bring hope to many people who suffer and their families.
“For this reason, the Church naturally offers her encouragement to those who are engaged in conducting and supporting research of this kind, always with the proviso that it be carried out with due regard for the integral good of the human person and the common good of society.”
Man is both the “agent of scientific research,” and also “the object of that research,” the Pope noted. However, the “transcendent dignity” of man “entitles him always to remain the ultimate beneficiary of scientific research and never to be reduced to its instrument.” This, of course, is the problem with embryonic stem cell research. Embryos are human beings in the earliest stages of development and research using embryonic stem cells always involves the destruction of these nascent human lives.
“The destruction of even one human life can never be justified in terms of the benefit that it might conceivably bring to another.”
Science and ethics must be in dialogue with one another “to ensure that medical advances are never made at unacceptable human cost.” By calling for respect for the ethical limits of biomedical research, the pope said, the church does not seek to impede scientific progress, but to “guide it in a direction that is truly fruitful and beneficial to humanity.”
The conference Pope Benedict was speaking at was part of the Vatican’s $1 million dollar collaboration with US based biopharmaceutical company NeoStem’s Stem For Life Foundation to support research and increase public awareness of treatment using adult stem cells.
The pope concluded his address with a prayer that adult stem cell research “will bring great blessings for the future of man and genuine enrichment to his culture.”
Obviously, after 40 years and over 50 million murdered unborn children, abortion remains our highest pro-life priority here in the United States. It’s the one we’ve been fighting the longest. But it’s not the only pro-life battle before us. If we are truly concerned about the value and dignity of every human life, especially at it’s most vulnerable stages, then simply being “anti-abortion” is not enough. Not in today’s world. We have GOT to start making the many other threats to the dignity of the human person (ESCR, assisted reproductive technology, human cloning, etc…) an equal priority for our movement before they get just as out of hand as abortion is today.
Human cloning is not coming; it is already here. It is time to stop pretending that this is a problem for our children and grandchildren. This is our issue to tackle. Now. In the latest episode of BioTalk, Rebecca and I discuss the realities of human cloning and what we can do to stop it.
Note that this latest cloning “breakthrough” like the first one, was not done in some underground lab in China, but in the good old USA (Oregon to be exact) where there are no restrictions on this or other once unthinkable kinds of human experimentation currently in practice.
I understand that it’s not easy keeping up with all the attacks on the dignity of the human person these days, but we cannot afford to let these other issues fall through the cracks. This ‘aint your momma’s pro-life movement, anymore. Or, it shouldn’t remain so. Pro-life 3.0 is upon us whether we like it or not and it’s progressing fast — and largely under the radar. I think Pope Benedict saw that very clearly. Let’s follow his lead and confront the difficult problem of bioethics now before it’s too late.
What does the Catholic Church have to say about biotechnology — and is she as “backward” thinking as most people believe? Rebecca Taylor and I discuss in the latest episode of BioTalk:
In his second encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict warned that “If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.”
It is disturbing how willing we are to leave important ethical decisions up to anybody wearing a white coat these days. Self regulation science doesn’t work. That is why the Catholic Church, grounded in faith and reason, routinely challenges scientists and doctors with her teaching.
The Church is not against scientific or biomedical progress. In fact, she has made many unique contributions to the development of the arts and sciences in Western culture (including ethical and effective treatment for infertility). It’s time we stopped seeing the Church as some antiquated organization that refuses to “get with the times.” She is, in fact, one the most forward thinking institutions in the world and it’s about time we started listening to Her.
“Behind every “no” in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great “yes” to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence.” (Dignitas Personae, Conclusion)
In recent decades, America has made many wonderful advances in protecting the rights of people with disabilities and including them in society. Gone are the days of forced sterilization and institutionalization. Now we have laws making disability discrimination illegal and most public places handicap accessible.
Children with special needs are able to get an education in most public school districts and, when one isn’t available or doesn’t meet a child’s specific needs, some states, like Oklahoma, even offer scholarships for those children to attend a private school that will. On top of all that, advancements in medicine and technology are also helping us live longer, more independent lives.
All that progress, however, is currently being undermined by the now standard practice of killing unborn children diagnosed with various diseases and disabilities. This brilliant poster from Feminists for Life of America (click to enlarge) echoes something I’ve said many times about these “eugenic” abortions.
To be sure, all abortion is equally abhorrent and offensive to humanity. It targets one segment of society, the unborn, and deems it worthy of life only at the behest of another segment. Eugenic abortion, however, goes one step further and takes a class of born citizens, the sick and disabled, and says to us, “your life is not worth living, you are a burden to yourself and society and you, and others like you, are better off dead.”
Whether you mean to say it or not, advocating for abortion for unborn children with various diseases and disabilities in an effort to “spare them a life of suffering” (among other things) suggests that one must be perfect in mind and body in order to have a fulfilling life, which sends a message to those of us poor fools living with disabilities outside the womb that you do not think that our lives are worth living.
It strikes me that the people who have given themselves the privilege of deciding which disabilities are unbearable or “incompatible with life” have little to no first-hand experience with disability themselves. They must not, because the thing is, you’d be hard pressed to find a disabled person who will tell you that they wish they were never born. Most people with disabilities, even severe ones, are quite happyto be alive and want to stay that way. Children with disabilities are no different. In fact, a recent study from Newcastle University found that disabled children have the same range of happiness and unhappiness as all children.
Unfortunately, despite all the gains we’ve made, non-disabled people still can’t seem to see this. When a prenatal test reveals some disease or disability, they instinctively judge the lives of these children through able-bodied eyes and only see tragedy. Consider another poll here in America a few years ago which found that 52% of Americans say that they would rather be dead than disabled. Going back to the Newcastle study, even many parents who have chosen to love and care for their disabled child scored their children’s quality of life much lower than the children themselves.
By killing unborn children with disabilities, you might think that you are sparing someone a miserable life, but what you’re really doing is projecting onto them your own fear of hardship and suffering.
Understandably, every expecting parent wants their child to be born healthy. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but that doesn’t make their life less valuable, or your life with them less joyful. Everyone has the right to pursue happiness, including children with disabilities, and the good news is that most of them will enjoy their lives immensely…if they’re given the opportunity.
Be not afraid. Often the prospect of life with a disability or a disabled child is seen as an act of heroism that people either think they don’t have the strength for themselves or aren’t comfortable asking someone else to undertake. Words like “burden” and “cope” are frequently used, but the reality for those of us who live it, is that life with a disability is quite ordinary. It’s different. It has some challenges. But it’s certainly not too hard to handle.
For more discussion on the unethical uses of prenatal genetic testing please check out the first episode of my new pro-life video series BioTalk. It is important to understand that prenatal genetic testing is not wrong in and of itself. Quite the contrary.
Diagnostic testing for genetic diseases has great potential for good. For example, today prenatal surgery is available for children diagnosed with spina bifida in the womb, to help the most serious complications of the worst form of the disease. Similar corrective treatment may even be available for unborn children with Down syndrome someday. Recently, researchers at the University of Washington announced a major step forward in the treatment the genetic disease.
Humanity’s greatness is shown best in how we love and care for those in need. Death is not medicine. Killing is not care. We should be concerned with finding cures and making the world a place where people with disabilities feel welcome and valued, not trying to snuff them out of existence.
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